This is the outline of an idea I had to use the 'surplus' school buildings I have seen. But it should work for almost any project, or any building.

The Art Village plan By David Smith

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex.... It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction"

Albert Einstein.

I would like to suggest the possibility of your joining me in the collection of ideas and information leading to the creation of a combination small business incubator and art colony I am planning. That is not the full extent of this project, but it will do for a starting point. No one location is selected, this is an extended area project that a number of people could join in on.

Here are some notes on the project I call the Art Village. It has a virtual aspect that could be of use to any artist or craftsman anywhere - more on this aspect later. As ‘starving artist’ is not a meaningless word, indeed is often just one word, I tend to look at low cost or high return approaches.

The Art Village theme is; "To create an supportive environment for artists." It includes items needed running a small business and has a community support aspect that may interest you.

It’s projected to be at least partly housed in a unused or ‘surplus’ school building These building have lots of nice features like lots of parking.

In any case, the lack of a surplus school building is not a deal stopper because of the nature of the Art Village - it can be done with a number of other buildings, of almost any type. Houses, barns, commerical buildings, all would be made to work.

Surplus school buildings are nice, very useful - but not a total requirement for starting an Art Village.

As you may already know there are a very few art colonies in western Tennessee, and only a few in the areas over the state boarder. I feel this condition can be reversed to the benefit of all parties involved. This is one of the benefits of the Art Village - as outlined it should benefit all parties involved.

   The plans I have would combine the day to day operations of the Art Village with the needs of the community.  

   If the first building managed by the Art Village is a surplus school there is a better possibility of positive returns showing up sooner.  It is possible that a Montessori school might be formed at the school.  

I’m picking on a school building as a starting point because it seems to be a good place for the Art Village to start out in. A number of the projected functions, particularly the community support functions, may be reasonably based in such a building. True, I cannot promise positive revenues flow for the building, but the act of putting it to use will soon reduce most of the negative effects of an empty, unused building. This use has another positive side effect, preservation of the building, as an empty, unused building ‘ages’ faster than a building in use.

There is a positive effect to the community in getting the prior tax revenue losses to even a small positive revenues flow for the building. There are also the positive effects of gentrification* happening to a town that supports such a project.

(*Gentrification the process of transforming an unprosperous neighborhood into a more prosperous one, for example, through people doing the renting upgrading or remodeling the buildings.)

In this case, to explain gentrification one person quipped “When the artists move in, the rent goes up.”

Divide and prosper?

The Art Village does not have to be located in any one place. As a matter of fact, there is a strong suggestion in the long run a single location might somewhat work against the full function of the Art Village.

Why does the Art Village eventually need to be in several places? In part this is due to the nature of the artists themselves, and their requirements. The spectrum of ‘Artist’ ranges from ‘artist as hermit’, wanting a studio location, to the other extreme, the performance artist, who not only wants a studio, they want it in a central, well traveled location, and are almost ready to kidnap (!) people off the street for a ‘on demand’ audience. There are too extremes here. Clearly no one building can serve these two extremes, to say nothing of the shades of artists in between the two extremes. But there is no law requiring all Art Village functions to be housed in one place. Yes, you might expect that would be needed, but recent developments (the Net) have changed that.

How can the Art Village be in several places at once? That division was not a problem with Peter’s Valley. This is an Art Colony spread among several houses in a small town in New Jersey

The short, noncomplex answer is by doing any linking needed over the Internet, the more involved answer is found in the support programs in place.

Possible Art Village functions

One possible way to do this is after the Village gets going to have some of the mundane things often needed by artists purchased in bulk and held for later use. This function will generally be known as ‘stores’. The member artists are not required to buy from the Art Village ‘stores’ section, but the lower price, location, and ‘fresh nature’ of the materials should encourage this.

Of course, there are other support functions the Art Village provides. A loading dock is seldom needed by a single artist, but it is projected to have a full use schedule with a number of artists on site. In other words, an artist may need the loading dock only once a month, but the requirements of 30 artists or firms means near daily use for this feature. The existence of a loading dock might be of use to local people as well.

So I project the function of the 'Art Village' be combined with the function of a small business ‘incubator’ as well - to provide the largest number of renters possible, and to make the venue as useful and complete as possible.

Another possible empowerment is to have a collection of artists with activities that naturally support each other. I plan to offer more than just the rental of space, as I have encountered in a number of ways the blending of the different needs of artists.

In short, I hope to ‘encourage’ artists that have overlapping needs or functions – then help those overlapping needs get filled. The report assumes, but does not require, the project being started in a rural area. The project might be located in a surplus school or similar building – at this point a ‘surplus’ school is probably the best starting point.

I use the word ‘surplus school’ in quotes, as after talking to the Board of Education I am assured there are no ‘surplus schools’ anywhere in Tennessee - except that I live in Steward county, Cumberland City, with just such a school building not more than two block from my house. Opps. This school hasn’t had a graduating class in at least 10 years. For a time it was rented out for a commercial use after it was closed - but is not ’surplus’, it‘s claimed by the Board of Education to still be under lease by the community. To date I have not been able to find a term that will help me find the location of such buildings that clearly do exist in other places as well. Other people may have better luck on this. A school building is often owned outright or long term leased by the town. While circumstances vary, this usually seems to be the normal state of affairs.

In the beginning, size is probably more important than type, but all details need to be considered. To paraphrase a famous quote, “If you have a building, they will come.”

With the abilities of the Internet it doesn’t have to be a single building anymore. Why not combine the Art Village, and a few other things like the small business incubator and other functions, at a surplus / retired public school? While an area may not be able to produce enough artists to fill every one of the school rooms available, a mix of artists and businesses should be able to fill the rooms, and provide a safe mix in case the economy makes a change against one aspect of the Village. Conditions that might affect one group should not hit the other as hard, and what one needs the other may supply. After all, in a way an artist is a small business, and as such, need support as much as any other small business. If you have only a few tenants, by itself that would be a problem. But with a number of different possible renters the problem may well become a shortage of available space.

Really, I feel this is not a problem. Most features attractive to one group will also be of interest to the other.

An everyday example would be a loading dock. No artist is going to hand carry off a 10 ton block of stone. So, expect a move to have a shipping dock on site, if there is not one already. In turn, such an item suggests a need for some kind of shipping firm, and temporary holding area - in effect a warehouse in function. From there, it’s a short step to possibly forming a shipping company, if needed.

An Art Village can have an artist support function in other ways. For example, a simple product might be a plaster of Paris block, for pottery use. A wedging board goes for about $100 in a standard pottery catalog, basically it’s a 3$ bock of plaster of Paris. The Art village can provide there items and others* for, say, teachers giving local pottery classes. The teacher could get low cost items for setting up his class, the people attending could have an opportunity to buy such low cost items as well. The act of using the Art Village as a base of operations provides several real world benefits - the teacher has a reduced cost in first time setup for his class, the students could buy the items they learned on at low cost.

(Pottery wheels have a similar price markup) Being able to make a pottery wheel means a wheelchair bound person could have a unit to fit their needs.

Another possible support function is a spin off of bulk purchase and processing of raw materials. A real world example would be the mulling of clay. This is best done in large lots, with a large capacity machine and stored / stockpiled in plastic 55 gallon drums for long periods of time (long storage promotes an aging process). The need to process a large lot of clay would justify and support the purchase of a high capacity muller.

However, the weight of such clay restricts where such a major clay stockpile can be stored (second floor storage is NOT suggested for this, even if you can easily get it upstairs!).

Mail box center - The post office does not mind if a mailbox location is set up locally - indeed, this may free up the pressure for boxes in the local post office.

Employment firm - And just where would that firm locate? Well, I know of a place, centrally located to the local area, with lots of parking, and office space, and a number of locations and small businesses needing workers right at hand. Humm. . . Might be an effective gas savings.

Bookkeeping - Having a number of small firms in one place would be of interest to a bookkeeper. An ‘on site‘ bookkeeper could offer a lower cost service to the Art Village firms, all gathered in one place. Again - An effective time and gas savings.

Shared resources - For example, both glassblowing and pottery have a need for kilns, but the type of need is not identical. It might be possible to use the kilns for both functions with modern insulating materials and programmable controllers to cut down on problems in building or running them. There could be problems with a particular use, but there are a number of artistic needs for kiln space. Here is a partial list.

Art Clay (after being fired this is pure gold or silver ) Glass slumping Glass annealing Pottery and brisk work Enameling Metal casting

This is also a safety feature - the area can be equipped with several different gas and carbon monoxide sensors for safety.

It may also be possible to use other money saving approaches - for example, with an idea of the volume of work needed, that will suggest the number of kilns needed. You can now plan ahead for this number of kilns ultimately needed. Knowing you will need, say, 10 kilns, would justify something like building the kilns in a group to save on the heat losses on heat conducted through the walls. Build enough kilns in a circle and the ring will wrap around and ‘close’, giving you in effect a ‘free’ kiln to add to the others. This much raw pottery flow would make it easy to set up a dust control system. A local green ware storage area is also useful.

New developments like the solid state TV cameras open up new uses. It may be useful to set one up to monitor a furnace.

If possible, try to collect artists that have overlapping needs or functions. At least, have an idea of the process or functions that do truly overlap, so those needs can be meant as well.

As a typical example this report assumes (but does not require) an Art Village renter who might be building a glassblowing studio. A woodworking artist might be used to make some of the traditional glassblowing tools, for example, which are made from wood.

Day care center - A day care function is a natural add on to the Art Village, and given the conditions today there is a real need for it. I feel sure this is a feature sure to be given a positive vote. If this is was K to grade school originally the playground directed toward younger children should be a bonus to the Art Village. Adding a day care function would insure the items already in place are put to full use. Plus the kids would love it.

Caterer support - Of special interest to a local catering firm would be the full function, up to code commercial kitchen. A bonus is the day to day steady customers the site would provide for that service. The daily customers are the artists that want to eat on site, plus the parents who want to spend quality time with their children in the day care center.

Notes on glass A "hot shop" is the most difficult of any glass craft venture, conversely it would provide the greater returns. Lesser glassblowing function shops would provide almost as many benefits as well, including the need. The complex with a glass making furnace at it’s core has a number of features that could be shared with other artists, or small businesses. These features include heat output of a furnace also be used to other, somewhat more mundane uses, like some of the heat output going to a lumber drying kiln.

However, activities of a lampworking shop (an intermediate step to a full ‘hot shop’) has many of those features as well. For example, a hot shop or lampworking shop might take a step forward and go directly to a tank of cryogenic oxygen to run glassblowing torches. As a low use tank normally vents ‘excess’ (not drawn off for use) oxygen, this same cryogenic oxygen tank could run one, or a number of torches at about the same cost. In short, a cryogenic tank would support a number of torches without shortening the ‘lifetime’ use of the tank. This could include a oxy-acetylene cutting torch, as well. Such torches as those are useful in any shop. For that matter, any artistic function that involves ‘directed heat’ would benefit from access to glass blowing torches themselves. Because of the nature of glass, glass blowing torches have to be a superior design and function. They will work very well for any effort that needs directed heat.

Along the way to making the plans for the Art Village I saw the possibility of other features. The existence of these features depends in part on the building size, the local grounds, and the building features.

Mail box function - This is partly a public access function. I do know established companies have used such mailbox firms even though they had a fully functional mailing room at the time.

Phone Answering service - The school has the office space and the phone lines already in place* to support this function. There will also be a inter classroom intercom system there as well.

  • (standard widespread phone company policy is to run all local phone lines into such a building - there are several technical reasons why.)

A local library - The Library area of the school will probably be ‘book free’ but should still have the bookshelves in place. I would suggest against it being broken up, as there are probably better, more positive uses for it for the original function. With the room basically unchanged there are at least two functions it can provide. divided. One such use would be to hold art books donated to the Art Village.

Local townspeople could donate books to provide books needed for the library. Such a location will be slowly restocked with donated books in one form or another. I have been involved with this project so I have firsthand knowledge of the project. The library could also provide a place for a retired couple to start a paperback business store.

Related Art village support items - Other community support functions include a community fax machine, community copier, and other items. Depending on demand and building features, this might be an Internet café, in the cafeteria, or possibly the library.

As there will be office space on site, there is the possibility of use by a number of local firms.

The auditorium is something that should not be broken up. It is quite possibly the largest single room for miles, and looking at the room as just cubic footage would be a mistake There are a number of functions possible in the space that would work best with the room in it’s original form. There are other possible low cost upgrades to the auditorium. Add a full size theater quality movie screen is possible, based on what has happened to me in the past.

Even the original design of the school can be an aid to the day to day operation of the Art Village. A school design now has only one normal access point to the building. The Art Village starts off with offering access to a number of firms, but only through a receptionist - a gatekeeper in effect - that can be a contact point even though the person is not present at the time.

Emergency functions and community support - Local support of the community would include functions like providing a ‘stand by’ church for use in case the original becomes damaged. Community support can also come from providing a location for the Red Cross, or for groups providing community support.

  • (The Red cross states one of the needs for disaster center is a large building, of course, but other items like storage space and available communications is also given as a needed item.)

As support for the Art Village, I have collected a large and diverse amount of facts and information I plan to make available as a special data base. This information, presented as an Internet data base, could provide support to artists worldwide. In effect this would create a virtual ‘Art Village’ almost overnight.

Having a good showroom is another one possibility for the Art Village, and having a number of artists showing their wares in one place will tend to justify trips from patrons, encouraging extended visits by patrons, providing benefits somewhat like having an upscale shopping mall in the area.

Other functions - Depending on the building and grounds - another possible function is the display of unusual artwork and community projects, both inside and out. This might include local functions that were using the building grounds before the Art Village was established. There is a possibility of some creative reworking of items around the building - for example, with some yellow paint a local 'eyesore' propane tank can become the ‘Yellow Submarine in drydock‘.

As a ‘business anchor’ for some functions that are a bit hard to describe. For example;

Retirement homes have a number of people joining them, but having a number of still valuable items they might wish to donate. Frequently they might have life experiences, tools, musical interments or similar items for donation to the Village. In some cases the Village can be a clearing house doing nothing more than bringing such people together.

While I’m not excessively ‘Green’ (ecologically supportive) I do feel ecological solutions to problems should be encouraged where possible. Whenever possible these solutions will be added to the general operation of the Art Village.


David Smith

  • (There is an Art Colony in the quad city area known as "The Shoals" ( )

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Published 2007
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